Blog: Making communications accessible in the Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

A white book with the title The pleasures we choose on the cover, and white headphones set against a white background.

The pleasures we choose, published by Frame Contemporary Art Finland and K.Verlag (Berlin). Design by Samuli Saarinen. Photo by Katri Kuisma

The attention and demand for accessible communications in cultural and arts organisations have grown in recent years. On Frame’s blog, Communications Officer Katri Kuisma reflects on her experiences with digital accessibility related to the Finnish Pavilion exhibition at the Venice Biennale.

Considering accessibility measures in communications of cultural and arts organisations is crucial for many reasons. By creating accessible content consistently, organisations can enable equal participation for a wide range of audiences, while expressing their commitment to social responsibility. In this blog post, I reflect on my experience of accessible communications in The pleasures we choose, the exhibition presented at the Pavilion of Finland at the 2024 Venice Biennale, and how it influenced my view of the relationship between art and communications.

When I started working at Frame in the autumn of 2023, I had only recently gotten to know the world of communications and had no previous experience in accessibility measures. A new perspective on communications and how to re-think it was introduced to me in the form of the exhibition produced by Frame for this year’s biennale.

The pleasures we choose opened its doors on 20 April 2024 at the 60th Venice Biennale. Through the works of three contemporary artists and site-specific exhibition architecture, the exhibition creates a unique and welcoming space for different bodies and social discourse. The artistic team consists of artists Pia Lindman, Vidha Saumya and Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen, curators Yvonne Billimore and Jussi Koitela and exhibition architect Kaisa Sööt. 

The accessibility of the exhibition takes its physical form as architectural interventions designed by the artistic team. These include the first ever (as far as we know) tactile map at the Venice Biennale, a handrail guiding through the exhibition space, accompanying seating, and a ramp at the main entrance of the Finnish Pavilion. The tactile map was produced by Taktiili Oy. The embodied experiences offered by the exhibition resonate with the artists’ own embodied experiences from which their artistic work springs. However, the accessibility of the pavilion is not limited only to the visible structures but extends to the solutions made in the communications process.

The tactile map at the entrance to the Pavilion includes a QR code that visitors can scan with their phone and listen to an audio description of the exhibition, including the wall text, description of the Aalto Pavilion, the artists and each artwork. The audio description also describes the site-specific exhibition architecture and guides you through the exhibition space. The audio description produced by Artlab is also available on Frame’s website

The pleasures we choose exhibition brochure and publication are also available as PDF files on Frame’s website. The digital accessibility of the files was provided by Selko Digital. The exhibition’s accessibility information is also available in the exhibition brochure. By ensuring the accessibility of the materials, the exhibition will have the opportunity to reach in different forms all of those interested in it, even if a physical visit to the Giardini Biennale Park and the Aalto Pavilion is not possible. This, I believe, is the essence of accessible communications in exhibition production; whether it is a physical or linguistic barrier or a challenging location, everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the exhibition experience and to find information about it in a way that suits them.

At the Biennale opening week, we utilised social media platforms to communicate about the events for the audience of almost 18,000 people following Frame. The possibility of live-streaming the opening ceremony of the Finnish Pavilion was raised by the production team. Despite limited resources and some peculiar equipment, we were fortunate to be able to create a live-streamed broadcast on Instagram. Around 157 people from around the world reached our livestream and were able to participate in watching the opening speeches.

The audio description and digital exhibition publication are definitely important, tangible results of the project’s accessible communications, but as always, there are many other small steps made to ensure the accessibility of Frame’s daily communications. In my experience, Frame’s communications pay constant attention for example to the clarity of language and alternative captions, or alt texts. Adding alt texts to published images allows screen readers to convey the content of images to visually impaired users. Accessibility can also be found in unexpected places, such as tags at the end of published content. The official hashtags for the Finnish Pavilion exhibition are #FinlandInVenice2024 and #ThePleasuresWeChoose. By capitalising the first letter of the word in hashtags, they become more recognisable and readable to readers with a challenged vision.

Since the opening week of the Biennale, we have received a great deal of absolutely lovely feedback on the accessibility of the pavilion, both in terms of architecture and digital content. Many Biennale visitors have been delighted with the accessible exhibition materials: imagine the traditional Biennale visitor, surviving from exhibition to exhibition with tote bags full of countless leaflets and exhibition publications. “Ah, so the whole book is available for free on your website? I can read it where I want, whenever I want, and take in the content in a completely different way? Amazing!” Being able to access the material digitally not only frees up bag space but is also a step towards a smaller carbon footprint in exhibition production. 

The Culture for All Service defines accessible cultural activities on their website as: 

Cultural activities are accessible when they serve different people and audiences well. It should be easy for all people to participate. It is also easy for people to move, see and hear when they participate in cultural activities. In accessible cultural activities, organisers take into account the individual ways of each guest, worker and artist.

Understanding and ensuring the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in communications requires time, resources, dedication and employee training. It can be technically challenging at times, but it is an essential part of the communications process and of the organisation as a whole. Compliance with accessibility standards is not only a legal obligation but also an ethical one. In the end, the benefits simply outweigh the challenges.

I feel that Frame’s, and my own, perception of communication has been permanently changed by The pleasures we choose and the themes it represents. Whether investing in audio descriptions, writing alt-texts or juggling three cameras while monitoring a live stream in the name of successful event communication, I see significant value in every step we move closer to accessibility and inclusivity in the communications of cultural and arts organisations.

– Katri Kuisma

Communications Officer

This blog is a platform for reflecting work, current issues and discussions in arts by Frame staff members and other contributors. This blogpost was published in English and Finnish.